Tue, Dec 23, 2008
"Riverside 2" is the name drawn on the 7.5' topo for a benchmark in the Riverside Mtns, a small range in California near the Arizona border north of Blythe. The summit doesn't appear on any of the usual peak lists, but it is has the distinction of being the highpoint of the range. I was looking for something easier today after our longer outing in Arizona the day before, something that would keep Ryan from crying uncle. The Riverside Mtns seemed to fit the bill, but since I knew of no one that had actually visited it, there would be a good deal left to chance - namely whether we'd find a route up. The distance and elevation gain were easily manageable as long as we didn't run into any cliffs.
Up at 6a, we packed the van and quit our motel in Blythe before the sun was up, grabbing a quick breakfast where we filled up with gas. We drove north on US95, catching glimpses of the Colorado River on our right and watching the sunrise on the Riverside Mtns in front of us. Those first views were somewhat intimidating, with rings of cliffs and jagged ridgelines along what looked like the highpoints. These turned out to be a lower ridgeline to the southeast of our summit, whereas the actual highpoint was far more accessible. At the Agnes-Wilson Rd (one of the few roads that bridges the Colorado River along the CA/AZ border), we turned left and took a decent dirt road west towards our mountain. We followed this for a mile to the place marked "Gravel Pit" on the topo and parked the car in a huge flat area marking the terminus of the road. There were a few TVs and other appliances shot to pieces along with a few thousand spent shells. While I was getting my pack together, Ryan happily wandered around investigating, coming back with a handful of unbroken clay pigeons that he treated like gold (we still have them in the van a few weeks later).
From the parking area we wandered up the dry streambed with only mild bushwhacking needed to avoid the various desert entanglements. Ryan had been well-versed on catclaw by this time, and had little trouble following me up the wash. I had planned to follow it up to where it reached a saddle on an ascending ridgeline, but as things got more brushy we exited the canyon to our right and climbed up the rocky hillside towards the ridge above. Unlike the previous day where off-trail travel would have been slow and painful, the Riverside Mountains are a particularly dry range and there is little vegetation once out of the creekbeds. In fact there were almost no cacti to be found anywhere and it made for much easier hiking. Still, it was a steep slope and I had to wait often for Ryan who was slowing down on his third day following Dad around. He was a good sport though, and in about an hour and a half we had found our way to the undisputed highpoint. I was happy to see us rising above those harder points along the front ridge to prove we were indeed heading up the right mountain, but perhaps that front ridge will make for a future adventure to traverse it from one side to another. I could see a large cairn atop one of the points along that ridge and signs of visitors on another one, so though it wouldn't be a first by any stretch, at least I knew it was climbable.
At the summit we found an MWD benchmark along with a register dating back to 1986. Ryan was moderately impressed that I could guess the names on the first page without looking at it (Gordon MacLeod & Barbara Lilley). There was a small scroll of narrow paper with dates newer than this, evidently placed by Andy Smatko and party in 1994, that led a separate existence until someone combined the two. Looking over the entries it appeared the mountain is climbed only once or twice a year, and we added our own names as the second entry for 2008.
There were plenty of mountain ranges visible about us in all directions and I was now familiar with almost all of the ones that lay in California. But the Arizona side had its own share of even more impressive ranges, none of which I could identify or say I had visited. I could see lots of future adventures across the river...
For the return I talked Ryan into trying a different route. There was some risk of course since I couldn't guarantee we could get down this other way, but it looked like it would go. It seemed a good time to introduce Ryan to his father's gambling ways in the mountains. The gamble worked. We hiked southwest along the summit ridge to the lower SW summit where we found the remains of an old electrical instrument, perhaps a seismic device or a backcountry radio antenna. From there we started down the steeply graded ridge off to the east. I was nervous for Ryan in a few spots due to the looseness of things and thin layers of gravel on slanted rock, but with coaching and a slow approach he did just fine getting through it all. On the other side of a shallow saddle we picked up an old trail that probably went to one of the many prospects in the area. This took us down to an old road still depicted on the topo but no longer serviceable for vehicles of any type. Years of errosion had run deep chasms in the roadbed and where it crossed the streambed a few times it was unrecognizeable as a road. But it was easy enough to follow on foot, which we did for a mile or so. As we were in the next canyon south of where we started, I stopped us below the saddle connecting the two canyons and we hoofed it cross-country up and over this point.
Before we reached the saddle I was startled by a loud cry from Ryan, and for a brief moment I wasn't sure if it was my daughter or my son that was trailing behind me. "Oh my God! Oh my God!" was about all he could get out before I had a chance to turn around to see if he was being mauled by a bear or a mountain lion. Poised on a rock in front of him, not making a move but ready to pounce at the first opportunity was a hairy tarantula. "Oh, cool!" I exclaimed when I saw it. It had its butt in the air, stood stalk-still, and looked like it couldn't wait until we left. Ryan calmed down while I took a few pictures and picked up a stick to see if I could get it to move. It did so only unwillingly and reverted to its possum play as soon as I pulled the stick away. Ryan had been startled badly because he was just zoning out in his own imaginary world as he often does, staring at the ground while we were climbing the slope, when this unexpected horror popped into his field of vision. Who knew such dangers lurked in the desert?
Ten minutes later we'd hiked over the saddle and back down to the van waiting in the shade for us. We stopped at the Colorado River on our way back, looking for fish (we saw none) and skipping stones, before hitting the road for San Diego. I'd hoped to talk Ryan into another small peak on our way back, but he'd had enough and was soon asleep in the passenger seat. Wish I could fall asleep as easily, although not just at the moment - I still had more than four hours to drive...
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